Comics/Graphic Novels

DC Rebirths, Gatekeeps, Disappoints Again

On Friday, DC finally unveiled the Rebirth initiative they’d been teasing for a couple weeks, complete with a lot of cancellations of current books and announcements of new ones. There’s a lot to unpack with Rebirth, including the risky plan to double ship an unprecedented number of titles, the lack of obvious minority and LGBT representation in the announced books, and the odd choice to declare licensed comics “boring” a couple weeks after proudly announcing a new line of licensed comics. But I want to zero in on one quote in particular from Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, a quote that’s already been getting a lot of attention – and a lot of flack – online:

If you have, like me, long boxes of DC Comics, you will be very happy. If you’ve never read a DC comic before, you won’t be too lost. This is definitely for comic book readers more than it is for casual readers…but that doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive of them.

I’mma stop you right there, Geoffrey. Because I do have longboxes of comics – stacks of them, overflowing my closet, the end result of going on fifteen years of avid comic book reading and collecting. Most of them are DC. (The rest are cartoon ducks.) Between those single issues, a couple shelves’ worth of trades, and digital comics, I have read literally thousands upon thousands of DC comics in my life. I can cite as much obscure trivia or explain as many byzantine, now-retconned plotlines from decades past as you want.

And I think this is one of the shortsighted, self-involved, exclusionary statements I’ve ever heard from a comics professional in my life.

I’m gonna let you in on a secret, Geoff: that fan with the long boxes of comics? You don’t need to court them this aggressively. They’re already buying the comics. I’m already buying the comics, and I’m so mad at you guys right now I could spit. The thing about lifers is that they’re lifers. That dude who reads everything you publish with Batman in it? He’s always going to do that. You don’t need to contort yourselves to please him and insult everyone else. You just need to put Batman in stuff.

The other thing about lifers? Is that they are not a self-replenishing market. They die out. Or they have lifestyle changes – marriage, kids, moving away from a convenient shop – that mean they have to stop buying in such great volume. (Yeah. I see you trying to wring those extra dollars out with the double shipping. It’s a finite resource, buddy.) In order to keep your publishing company viable, you must bring in new readers.

And bringing in new readers has never been easier! DC’s profile is the highest it’s ever been since I’ve been reading comics. Batman v. Superman comes out in March; Suicide Squad drops in August. DC has five separate TV shows airing on three different channels right now. Flash and Supergirl in particular have been stunning successes, beloved by fans and critically acclaimed – and jeez, freakin’ Green Arrow is on the fourth season of his TV show, something I never would’ve pegged in a million years. Characters like Captain Cold and Rip Hunter are beaming into living rooms every week. We got a live action Kelex last week, for crying out loud! (Well, CGI. You know what I mean.)

So this June, when all five of those shows are on hiatus, when potential fans are between BvS and Suicide Squad and looking for a way to keep enjoying the characters they’ve fallen in love with but maybe haven’t ever experienced in a printed format before?

DC plans to slam the doors in their faces in favor of people who have really strong opinions about whether Tomar-Re is a better Green Lantern than Tomar-Tu.

And let’s name the elephant in the room right now: the “problem” with these new fans is not that they’re new. The problem with these new fans is that they are overwhelmingly young and female, and more likely to be POC and LGBTQ than in years past. When Geoff Johns differentiates “comic book readers” from “casual readers” he’s not just splitting nonsensical semantic hairs: he’s identifying a core base of straight white male readers. He’s, as Comics Alliance’s Elle Collins points out, evoking dog whistles that we all understand without actually saying that since he and his fellows, as entrenched fans with the power to determine DC’s future, feel perfectly well represented by the nonthreatening slabs of Wonder Bread that are Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, they feel no need to publish characters who don’t look like them.

Last year, when DC announced their DCYou initiative, I had honestly never felt prouder or more excited about a company that I have been faithfully following for over a decade. I walked out of a panel on the new comics feeling energized and included; I devoured all of the first issues and loved many of them. I saw books I could share with friends and family, comics I could put in the hands of people who’d never read one before and say, “Here. You’ll love this.”

Here at Panels, we’re going to keep trying to haul those gates open to new readers, to bring them into the four-color fold – not just because new readers are the absolutely, incontestably vital lifeblood that will keep this weird niche industry going, but because we love comics, and we want to share them with as many people as possible. But if DC’s digging themselves into their own continuity and loudly proclaiming that they don’t want to make themselves accessible to new readers, it’s the companies that make jumping on board easy – All-New All-Different Marvel, the endlessly charming Archie reboot, Image’s low price points for their first trades – that will get that spotlight instead. Because we can’t share DC with new readers. Because DC doesn’t want us to.

So let me know when my money’s green enough for you, DC. I’ll be waiting.